CHARITY’S COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION OF RIVERS QUESTIONED
Fish Legal, a not-for-profit membership association, has used a freedom of information request to reveal that the Canal & River Trust (CRT) has earmarked 45 sites on 14 rivers for commercial development of hydropower; a money-making programme which could cause great damage to fish stocks and other aquatic wildlife.
Many of these rivers are recovering from centuries of industrial pollution. Fish Legal, which acts as the legal arm of the Angling Trust in England, is concerned that multiple developments on individual rivers could cause serious cumulative damage to fish habitat and migration. It could also destroy the cherished landscapes of our iconic waterways. Nine sites have been identified on the River Calder in Yorkshire, seven on the River Trent, five on the River Severn, four on the River Don and four on the River Weaver [See below for list]. There may be other schemes planned by other groups on these rivers in addition to those CRT wants to develop.
The Canal & River Trust is a new charity which has recently replaced British Waterways and its objects require it “to further for the public benefit the conservation, protection and improvement of the natural environment and landscape of inland waterways…”. Fish Legal has written to the CRT’s trustees raising concerns that its plans to profit from large scale hydropower development might conflict with this objective and its status as a charity. Charities are required by law to work for the public benefit, but this development work appears to be for internal commercial gain at the expense of the environment. CRT’s trustees have so far failed to reply to these specific concerns Fish Legal has raised.
In November last year Fish Legal took CRT to court and succeeded in preventing one highly-damaging development at Sawley weir on the Trent, which had been progressed by the CRT with its developer, knowingly without the permission of an angling club that owned fishing rights at the weir. Anglers now fear that many more damaging sites will be developed without proper regard for fisheries and the legal rights of clubs and anglers.
When making its freedom of information request Fish Legal Solicitors also sought assurance from the Chief Executive of the CRT, Robin Evans, that the charity:
“shall not seek to develop hydropower at any other fishery without first notifying and consulting fully with anglers, and then only progressing it further after receiving the written agreement from those anglers that hold potentially affected rights”
However, Mr. Evans refused to give this assurance, merely saying that the CRT “do not think it is appropriate” because each case will be different. This would suggest that there are sites under consideration where they still may want to disregard the rights of anglers.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “This industrial development activity by a charity leaves serious questions to be answered. Is it really being operated for the public benefit – as required by law and in accordance with its charitable objects – or is it seeking profit for internal gain? How does the development of commercial hydro installations over rivers and fisheries fit in with their recreational and environmental duties? What environmental assessment has the charity carried out of the cumulative impact of all these developments on rivers, fish stocks and angling? We will be pressing them for answers.”